Genes, Boobies and Other Accessories

Archive for April, 2012

On the 10th day of recovery…

I think I’m ready to join the land of the living now. It’s been a tough 10 days. Needless to say, I’ve spent these days sleeping, sleeping and sleeping. I’ve been keeping some notes during this time. So here’s a break-down of my first 10 days. In this post, I’m focusing specifically on the physical aspects of my recovery…everything else will be covered in future blog posts. Let’s catch up!

Day 1:  Pre-op was just as I anticipated. I checked in and went back to pre-op where I received my designer gown and matching socks. The nurses were great and my anesthesiologist was a rock star. I woke up in the recovery room to a fabulous nurse, Kevin. He was good to check on me and then check on mom and Jess as well. My docs gave them a great report. Surgery went well, blah blah. I am in and out of sleep in the recovery room. When I’m awake I try to talk to mom and Jess, although when I speak, I’m not real sure what I was trying to say but I’m certain that I either repeated the same thing over-and-over or said something crazy. They kept me in the recovery room longer than normal so that I could be placed in a private room. (YAY!) I went into surgery around 2pm, got into recovery around 4:30pm, and got into a room at 10:30pm. I basically slept this day away and don’t remember much of it. I was really dizzy from the anesthesia and in some pain, but not so much that I couldn’t sleep through it. Good way to start out, huh?!

Day 2: Ugh muscle spasms. In breast reconstruction they place tissue expanders under your pectoral muscles (pecs) to begin the reconstruction process. So where I once had pecs UNDER breast tissue, I’ll now have them OVER fake boobies. This is weird…really weird. My incisions don’t hurt or anything. I just kept having these painful muscle spasms. I could see the muscles contract and twitch. Needless to say, pain management was tough on the second day. The drugs weren’t helping much so I decided to stay one more night in the hospital until we got it under control. Mom and Jess took turns staying with me. Nurses came in to check my bandages. They said that my incisions looked great and my surgeon told us that I was able to keep more skin than most patients which meant my reconstruction was going to be faster and better. I have yet to see how it is faster or better…but I’ll take their word for it right now. I haven’t looked down at my chest yet.

Day 3: The spasms were still happening, but getting a little better. I started muscle relaxers. It was at this point that I decided that it wasn’t going to get much better and I just wanted to go home. The ride home was horrible. Every bump in the road made me cry. I’m pretty sure my mom and Jess were ready to start crying too. I think it was the longest ride of my life. When I got home…I think I just slept most of the day. I really don’t remember. In fact, I know that at some point during the first few days, I was so loopy I wasn’t communicating very well or much at all. At this point, I still haven’t looked down at my chest.

Day 4 – 5: Sleep. That’s about all that I can do. I get out of bed a little bit, but I’m primarily confined to the bed. The medicines make me so sleepy. My muscle spasms are still happening so that limits my movement. When the muscles contract, my arms sort of lock up and all I can do is keep them by my sides. I know that Jess was still here helping mom take care of me and waking me up every 4 hours for meds…but honestly…I don’t remember if we watched TV or what. I think we played cards at some point, but I’m not sure if I just dreamed it. She left on Day 4 to head back to AR. I’m sure mom was already missing her company. It’s at this point that I’m getting frustrated with my lack of mobility and the freaking drains are driving me nuts at this point. I have two drains, one in each noob (no boob). They are annoying and in the way.

Day 6: First doc visit. I weathered the ride to the plastic surgeon’s office pretty well. The muscle spasms were still killing me. Between the muscle spasms and the drains, I really don’t have much else to complain about. I’m doing pretty well at this point. My doc changes my dressings, tells me I can start cleaning the incisions each day with peroxide, tells me my drains can come out when I meet certain criteria, and tells me to keep up the muscle relaxers. I finally looked down at my chest. I’m not as shocked as I expected to be. In fact, it’s weird looking, but I apparently was more prepared than I thought. I’m yellow though. I guess all of the tissue is bruised. Knowing that I am close to having the drains removed, mom and I get more and more diligent about monitoring my drains. I can’t tell you how annoying they are.

By the time we get home, my other doctor calls to tell me that my pathology labs came back and all results were benign. So this was, indeed, a preventative surgery! Good news all around. I slept most of this day as well.

Day 7 – 9:  I’m still frustrated by the drains. I have a hard time not sounding grumpy when I talk to people. I don’t want to sound grumpy, so I work really hard these days to smile and monitor my tone. At this point, one drain is ready to come out, but the other isn’t. My mother has her friends praying for “lefty.” I’m now able to basically bathe myself. Nothing like being 32 and having your mom supervise your bath. I’m thankful she can handle all this, but it’s nice that I’m getting my independence back. She still has to wash my hair for me, but at least I can handle everything else with no supervision. We also started setting an alarm so that we ‘strip’ my drains every two hours hoping that we’re encouraging it to heal faster. It’s definitely getting better, but I’m still not ready to call the doc to have them removed. I might lose my mind over it too. It’s over these days that I’m much more comfortable with my incisions. I have no feeling from under my right arm pit all the way across my chest to my left arm pit. You know the way it feels when your mouth is numb from the dentist? Well that’s the way my whole chest feels. I’m not sure when or if I’ll get much of the feeling back. It’s kind of a bizarre feeling though.

Day 10: I’m going to attempt to only take Tylenol today. I’m hoping that the spasms are long gone, and maybe after Shabbat tonight I can get mom to take me somewhere…anywhere…out of this apartment. We’ve been watching movies and are now stripping my left drain every hour. I can tell it wants to get better, but alas it’s still not the color it needs to be. I’m determined to be in my doc’s office Monday so he can take them out. Seriously, life will be so much easier when I have these out. I’ll be able to take a shower, my clothes will fit better and I can stop wearing pjs every day, I’ll be more mobile, I might be able to sleep on my side…sigh…

So that’s the last 10 days! It’s been rough, but it could be so much worse. I’m not complaining about it at all considering that I’m healing faster than most people do. I’m trying to find things to do (within my limits) so I’ve taken up cross stitching. I’m working on something right now, but next week plan to tackle some of the kits that I ordered off of this site called Subversive Cross Stitch. As you can see, I’m feeling more like myself now. Still keepin’ it real, yo.

Advertisements

12 hours and counting

I have to be there by 11:30 tomorrow morning. It’s 11:45pm and I’m not sure if I’m going to sleep tonight. I just panicked when I realized I hadn’t taken the total dosage of antibiotics that my doctor told me to start today. I misread the label. I called Dad and left him a message. I then called my cousin, Christie, and she talked me off the ledge by convincing me that if I tried to take the full dose by midnight that I’d just end up in bad shape. In fact, her exact words were, “Mandy, don’t do that. You’ll have the worst squirts and you’ll be so sick tomorrow.” Needless to say, the fear of busting a stitch tomorrow kept me from overdosing on cephalex. I still think I will be fine now that we applied our vast knowledge of antibiotics. Guess it pays off to have a family full of pharmacists and nurses – and fathers that share their knowledge.

Now that the crisis is over, I’m sitting on the couch with Jessica while she plays on her phone and I’m trying to wrap up any last minute things that I need to do before I attempt to go to bed. I think I’m getting my game face on…slowly. I feel very focused and determined. I’m in the zone. I think this is a good turn of events considering that this past weekend I watched way too many YouTube videos and increased my anxiety level by a billion. I can feel my resolve setting in and this is exactly what I need right now.

I wonder what it is going to feel like tomorrow when I look down and see that I now have the chest of a 12 yr old boy. Will I feel sad? Will I panic? Am I prepared? I guess you never know how prepared you are until the event occurs. I’m sure that my coping skills are developed enough to handle this. I’ll feel less anxious once I wake up from surgery, hear that my tests are back from pathology (making this definitely preventative)…and I finally see my noobs (no boobs).

I’m going to go shower and try to get some sleep. Tomorrow is the big day. I will update the blog in a few days when I am more alert and getting around. I won’t write while I’m on pain killers…although I’m sure it would entertaining. And if I do anything trully embarrassing in pre-op tomorrow when they begin to give me meds in my IV…I can almost guarantee Jess will grab her phone and post the video somewhere very public. She missed her opportunity to do that when I had my wisdom teeth out and embarrassed the family by announcing that I was “hungry as a mofo” a million times and then sang the Chilli’s Baby Back Ribs theme song. I’m prepared for her to not miss another chance.

Thank you for your prayers and encouraging words. Please keep my parents and Johnna in your thoughts as well. 

It’s now 11 hrs and counting…

Happy (Early) Anniversary Mom and Dad

April 19, the day after my surgery, my parents will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary. That’s right…39. The day before, I will walk into the hospital with a 92% chance of developing breast cancer and will walk out on their anniversary with less than a 3% chance.

There have been moments over the last few years where I’ve really hated being the only living child. Most of the time I’m just upset that Jake isn’t around to distract the parental units when I mess something up. It was nice being the good child for a change during those last few years of his life. His manic phases seemed to always overshadow anything I could be doing. And we were both so young. I think his manic episodes also helped to distract us from the effects of the Lyme disease. It was easier for me to look past the weight loss, limping and gray tint to his skin when he would talk to me about whatever he was so fixated on at the time – in the rapid pace and cadence that mania encouraged. It allowed us a small break from the reality of knowing a loved one was dying right in front of us.  

I watched my parents spend every minute of every day worrying and praying over my brother. As the Lyme disease continued to get worse, it consumed all of us. I watched my mother pour all of her energy into taking care of him and making sure that he was safe and comfortable. I watched my father cry in frustration because he couldn’t find the right doctors to cure him. I don’t want to ever be in the situation where I have to watch them take care of me like that. I like to think that this surgery is just as much for me as it is for them.

I keep thinking about the urgency I had in having a hysterectomy. All I could think about was how I did not want to be sick and do this to them. I couldn’t handle the thought of them burying another child. I’m grateful that I got to walk out of that surgery with no illness and no need for treatment. I have no reason to believe that this upcoming surgery will be any different. For this, I am grateful. I will alleviate the worry and burden that we have all experienced over this pesky little breast cancer thing. I will remove the constant conversations about lab work or MRIs or more biopsies. It will be nice to not have to talk about it so much.

We’ve always joked about all of the horrible historical events that have happened on April 19th and how my parents have defied the odds on a day that seems so cursed – especially when you consider all they have experienced together. For those of you that aren’t aware, April 19th is the anniversary of Columbine, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Nazi invasion of Warsaw ghetto, the day that the Branch Davidian complex burnt down, and the day that Fidel Castro resigned. (On a lighter note, for those of you that are interested, it’s also the anniversary of the premiere of The Simpsons.) I like to think that this week/this wedding anniversary, my parents will show the universe one more way they’ve defied the odds…and we’ve defied the odds as a family.

So Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad…I’m sure I’ll sleep through the 19th, so I want to say it early. I love you both and am thankful for the insight and support you’ve given me. With your encouragement and support, I’m given the gift of life once again. Johnna and I are so lucky to have you.

And now, I will live to find you a retirement home where kind nurses will change your diapers and you can eat all the applesauce you want…while Johnna and I manage your estate. Just sayin…I’ll take real good care of you. I’ve got it all planned out.

Boobie Funeral

I know this might sound weird but the last few days I’ve found myself saddened by the changes my body will go through over the next year. It’s almost been like a pre-op grieving period. All of the sudden I’m scared of that moment when I wake up from surgery and see my temporary chest. I wonder if most women experience shock when they finally see a chest that’s (in my case) considerably smaller and doesn’t resemble anything that they are used to seeing? I wonder if it’s a hard thing to get used to looking at. I’m not scared enough to reconsider or question my decision. The thought of continued worry and radiation exposure for the rest of my life isn’t appealing at all. The thought of being forced into this surgery while going through chemo doesn’t sound good either. I know that if I was told that I had a 92% chance of winning the lotto, I’d buy tickets immediately. With this kind of risk and my horribly bad luck with my lady parts, I know what I need to do. I want to be in the 3% bracket and live a life where all I need to do is eat right and exercise to control my blood sugar…and make sure my liver is functioning properly. (hehehe)

No matter how rational and well thought out this decision is…I’m still going to be “Bride of Frankenstein” for a year and the emotional part of this decision is weighing on me. Thankfully, I have the internet to help me in my quest to reduce my uncertainty and calm my nerves. Reading other blogs by previvors and survivors helps tremendously. This weekend, I ran across this really cool awareness campaign, The Scar Project. It’s basically a  protrait series of fabulous women post op and it makes our scars look beautiful and artistic and something to wear with pride. The women look so feminine and strong. It was really encouraging. It made me feel better knowing that it is possible to still be feminine even with noobs (noobs = no boobs). And when all reconstruction is over, it‘s possible to be feminine with newbs (newbs = new boobs). I’m trying to keep things in perspective. I just have to emotionally prepare myself for this transition period. I’m thankful every time I read another blog, run across another website, meet another previvor or survivor because the sense of community and “normalcy” of this process is reassuring and comforting.

I also think this grieving period is something that we all experience. Much like grieving for a loved one, grief seems to manifest itself in different ways. You have good days and bad days. You feel peaceful and tormented. I think this week is when I really get to experience this process of grieving. It’s like a week-long funeral for my boobies. Let me make this point clear – it’s not a vanity thing that I’m experiencing. It’s more of an identity thing. Over the last few years, I’ve been forced into challenging and examining my concept of what makes me a woman. I had to challenge my definition of being a woman when I realized that I would not get the option to ever be knocked up and participate in a rite of passage that’s so closely tied to female identity. Now, I’m altering and temporarily losing the other outward sign of my identity as a woman. So in some ways the cool thing about this process is that I am learning to dig deep within myself to redefine my concept of me and what makes me a woman. It’s a refinement process. And so I’ll embrace my boobie funeral this week and hope that in the end I discover a renewed since of self and a new sense of humility and grace.

Today’s To-Do List

Today I woke up to revise my list of “To-Do’s” since surgery is a week away. I’m a planner…to a fault. I know this. I embrace it. Ain’t no shame in my game. I am suddenly very aware of things that I take for granted right now that I won’t be able to do for a few weeks post op. There are certain limitations that I’ll face for a little bit like lifting my arms over my head and lifting anything over 2 lbs; which, as my good friend and breast cancer survivor Ginny says – is the equivalent of a cup of coffee. My “To-Do” list continues to grow as I look around my apartment and see things that I could do to make life easier after I get home and stop taking the pain meds. So here’s my current list of things swimming in my head right now:

  • Interview housekeeper to come biweekly – hire by Friday
  • Find someone to bribe into doing laundry the week of May 14 – Mary??
  • Move makeup in bathroom to second shelf
  • Put laptop desk thingy from IKEA together (pray it’s not as hard as the computer desk was a few years ago) and put by the couch
  • Locate and assess availability of button up shirts in closet and move the rest to the other closet
  • Wash new button up pajamas and pack bag for hospital
  • Take otter box off of iPad – iPad should lose about 2 lbs that way
  • Buy wax and wax legs and armpits Sunday night. Yes, I just realized I won’t be able to shave for at least two weeks. Might need help with this as I tend to have performance anxiety after I apply the wax strip to my skin and can’t always pull it off myself. Mary you’ve been warned!
  • Put step-stool by bed
  • Put tongs to reach stuff with in bathroom, by bed and by couch. This is an effective tool for reaching things in the kitchen; it should work well for me in other rooms too. If the T-Rex was as resourceful and brilliant as I am she would not be extinct – beat you (Jess/Steve/Mary/Michael) to the joke about my tiny ineffectual arms.
  • Need more pillows – and do they make that TV pillow anymore that you prop up on?
  • Find a new series to read and download – pronto
  • See Hunger Games before Wednesday
  • Research prosthetic boobies….hot and uncomfortable or hot and worth it?

‘Nam Flashbacks

In November of last year I had an emergency appendectomy – not to be confused with horrible gas pain, which is what I thought it was and delayed going to the ER and even boarded a plane before realizing that it was indeed not gas pain. The experience was somewhat traumatizing. I was new to Columbus. I had no idea what hospital to go to. I had to google the hospital from the parking lot of the airport and drive myself there. I was denied pain meds for a long time until I signed a waiver saying that I would take a cab home. And it was the first time in my life that I was in a medical emergency and completely alone. I know that I’ve had the fortune of living most of my life as a hospital princess. My father’s name and reputation has helped me receive top-notch care. This was my first experience in a hospital to be treated very poorly…and it was traumatic.

So today I went to the hospital for my pre-admin testing and registration. I didn’t think I was nervous until in the waiting room the most OBNOXIOUS couple sat down by me. She wouldn’t stop reading every line on her registration form OUT LOUD and then looking at me as if I knew the answers to the questions about her medical history. To top it off…her husband smacked his gum the entire time and commented on everything Regis and Kelly were doing on the tv. It took everything in me to not get up and punch him in the throat. After a few minutes I realized that I was a little on edge and maybe I was just nervous. Just a little.

It wasn’t until I went back with the nurse that I realized I was really nervous. As she asked me questions, I felt my heart racing. I found myself being overly detailed with her because I kept thinking about how in my last surgery the nurses didn’t feed me in time and my blood sugar dropped to 23 and I had totally lost my voice and couldn’t call them on the phone or communicate well when they came in the room and I didn’t have anyone there with me and they gave me the pain medicine I told them I was allergic too but because I couldn’t speak loud enough for them to hear me and they wouldn’t bring me something to write with it took a full body rash before they changed it…

When she took my blood pressure and I saw my normal 117/79 was really 138/99 – I realized that I was having a ‘Nam flashback. It was weird experiencing white coat syndrome for the first time in my life. Which really caught me off guard because I grew up in hospitals.

I wouldn’t have thought that my silly hospital experience would impact me so much. For about three months afterwards I repeatedly reminded my friends that “I almost died,” and they’d consent to whatever I was asking of them. It was nice while it lasted. At the same time, I realized that the experience was very liberating. I didn’t have my father’s reputation surrounding me. I didn’t have a rockstar surgeon that had his own dedicated wing. I couldn’t speak, even on the phone (thank God for texting). I was very sick and very much alone. And I survived it. Just like I survived my physical and pre-admission stuff. And thankfully I recognized what was going on with me and the couple in the waiting room survived sitting with me later on in the morning in the registration office…even though the douche bag guy was still smacking his gum!!!

You wanna tattoo my what?!

Once I made the decision to have the surgery, I began meeting with plastic surgeons. When you ask 5 plastic surgeons the same question, you get 7 different answers. I wanted a number of opinions so that I could compare techniques and surgical options. I was pretty convinced that I was going to work a tummy tuck into the deal one way or another. So I met with the first doctor. He was a douche. I wanted to get a consult on the reconstruction and a consult for a tummy tuck. This guy only did tummy tucks. He was referred to me by a friend. I decided that it was worth asking him what he thought about me having a mastectomy and he said it was the best thing I could do for myself. In each consult my plan was to ask the doctor “if I were your daughter, what would you recommend that I do?” So although I’m sure he is a great doc and his tummy tucks are flawless, etc. He was a douche because he had the craziest hair and he talked like a Vegas lounge singer. It was hard to take him seriously. His hair wasn’t exactly what I would call a comb over…more like a comb forward and over with a swoop on the side. It was so distracting that I eventually stopped looking at him and tried to focus on a spot on the wall behind him. I think he also fancied himself a little and I got nervous that because of my goofy grin he’d think I was flirting with him. I still can’t understand why he speaks the way he does. Seriously, its like he sings his sentences. Anyways, obviously at this point – I’d ruled him out for being a douche.

The next doctor is where I got my first exposure to pictures of a mastectomy. The pictures were informative and helpful, and confirmed the bride of frankenstein picture that I had in my head. Although, I must say (when it’s all done) it just looks like a breast reduction with perfectly round nipples. Ugh nipples. I hate that word, and over the last year I’ve said it more than I ever have in my life.  The doctor puts pictures up on the wall through a projector for me to see and as he starts out, he says he’s going to show me pictures of before, day of, week after, 30 days after, 6 months after and a year after. This is where I realize that the process really is a year a long…and when I first hear the words “tattooed nipples.” Tattooed what?! He proceeds to show me the gun they use to tattoo after all of the surgeries are good and over. I’m not grossed out or anything or upset…my shock is more like “Oh! That’s how you do that?! Really?! Can Jews do this?”

Side Note: I’ve always appreciated the art of tattooing and am probably the only person I know without a tattoo…but now that I think about it – I’m also one of the few Jews in my circle of friends. Regardless, I decide that I’m not the first Jewish woman to have breast reconstruction and take my question to the internet where I find similar questions and become more comfortable with the idea of this tattoo….possibly tattoos in general (but don’t tell anyone – cuz my friends will think I’ve lost my mind since I’ve been committed to “no tattoos” for so long).

This first conversation leads me to the realization that I am really starting a mission to search for the perfect shape and size nipples. This becomes the focus of my consultations. I start seeing boobs as accessories at some point in the consults and find myself talking about them like I would purses. I even sat down at a bff’s house and thumbed through a Suicide Girls coffee table book where most people would look at the book as really artistic punk-style soft porn, I looked at it to shop for nipples. I’m sure I took the fun out of the book but it was a good book for me to look at and I even found a girl with flesh-colored star-shaped nipples…don’t be surprised if I do this btw.

At some point when you are faced with this surgery, you go through a period of time where you emotionally detach from the feminine identity you associate with having boobs and begin to see them as nothing more than accessories. Some people have to go through this process post op because they didn’t have time to process things prior to surgery. I just happen to have delayed the surgery by about a year and a half which has given me the time to emotionally be more prepared. Although, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the weirdness of tattooed nipples…

%d bloggers like this: